Would you believe it if I said this photo was taken in a pitch black location at 1am in the morning? How did we illuminate the car so much? Where did all the light come from? What is that peculiar red trail running through the image?
To achieve this result, all you need is a camera (obviously), a tripod, a portable source of light (in this instance, a speedlite flash, although a powerful torch or spotlight will suffice) and of course an interesting subject.
As I previously stated, this photo was taken in the dead of night in a secluded area of the countryside where there was almost no ambient light. I actually fell over not being able to see a thing in front of me!
The camera was mounted on a tripod relative to the subject as shown in the diagram below. Once the car was framed, I manually focused the car by momentarily turning on its headlights in order to provide the camera with a source of light. I adjusted the camera settings to enable as much light into the lens as possible. The shutter speed was set at 30 seconds at 100 ISO. You may ask why not use a higher ISO, but this just adds noise to the image. When there is no rush to take the photo, it’s best to let your shutter speed do the work. Aperture was set at f/4.0 in order to open the lens right up. I could have easily used a narrower aperture and used Bulb mode for a longer exposure but, in this instance, these setting provided an ideal exposure. Be careful not to use too wide an aperture, due to the shallow depth of field it creates. I also used a remote shutter release in order to prevent camera shake when taking the shot (although a two second timer will also suffice).
Upon pressing the shutter release and armed with a speedlite in one hand, I proceeded to make my way around the car setting off the flash as frequently as possible in order to paint the car with the light being emitted. I made sure the flash was always facing away from the camera to prevent unsightly white flash marks appearing in the final image, which can be a pain to erase in post processing.
The end result is the picture shown at the top. The orange glow in the sky was actually created by the distant lights of London. A real example of light pollution. But what about that red light streaking behind the car? Well, that was created by the rear lights of another car passing by on the road. Because the shutter was open for 30 seconds, it captured all light entering the frame in that timescale. In this case, that included the taillights of a passing car.
Don’t be afraid to move in front of the camera. So long as you’re moving at all times, your presence won’t be captured in the final image. Cool effects can be created by standing still for a few seconds, giving the apparent appearance of a ghostly figure (as shown below).
Give it a try yourself. Your subject doesn’t have to be a car… it can be anything – a monument… a tree in a field… a church… or any other interesting feature. You can watch Oliver’s video tutorial on how the graveyard photo above was shot and edited over on our YouTube channel below.
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Author – Stuart Tree